The Best Dovetail Saw for Beginners - Popular Woodworking Magazine

The Best Dovetail Saw for Beginners

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Woodworking Blogs

I get asked all the time about which dovetail saw is best for a beginner. It’s a difficult question because saws now come in a crazy variety of prices and configurations, from Japanese dozukis to premium handmade Western saws to well-manufactured mid-range saws.

So I usually duck the question and suggest the person try out the saws in our shop and decide for themselves (which is still good advice).

This week, however, I was in a Woodcraft store picking up some shellac flakes and walked by the handsaw section. Something red caught my eye. It was a Zona handsaw. Dang. I used to have one of those and loved it. Adored it. Blogged about it in a way that sounded like a sloppy love letter.

But I can’t for the life of me remember what became of it. Did a student kink it? Did I lose it during a class?

Impulsively, I bought the one at Woodcraft for $15. I have six dovetailed tills to build with tiny joints – it would be a nice tool to get reacquainted with.

Honestly, this saw is more incredible than I remembered. I wrote in 2006 that it was a bit slow. It’s not. I tore through 1” of wood (1/2”-thick stock that was ganged) with ease. The kerf is big enough to let me use a fretsaw to saw the waste out.

My only complaint with the saw is that the handle tended to come loose after a few cuts. I fixed that with some rosin and hammer taps.

This is an outstanding saw for beginning dovetailers. At $15 you can’t go wrong. And you can shop around and find it for less. Lee Valley sells it for $12.50. Amazon sells it for whatever the price is today. Oh, and it’s made in the U.S. The blade can be put in the saw to cut either on the pull stroke or the push stroke. It comes set to cut on the pull, which is how I prefer it.

(Side note: I find little to no difference in using saws that cut on the pull vs. saws that cut on the push. The principles are the same: Keep the blade aligned with the kerf. Move the saw back and forth. Don’t kink the sucker.)

So if you are looking for a first dovetail saw, get the Zona. You can ruin a few of them without worrying about kinking some expensive Swedish steel. You can build up your skills until you are ready to drop some serious coin on a saw. Or you can stick with the Zona and be just as happy.

— Christopher Schwarz


Laying Out Dovetails with Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 5 comments
  • bestadvisor

    I have already tried the tool in practice. Sensations are inexpressible! )

  • Dargens

    It looks awesome, but I would like to see how this blade shows itself in practice. You do not post videos here?

  • C. Stanley Plane

    Reminds me of the old Stanley 10″ gents saw you could find in any hardware store across the USA. Then Stanley went all Fatmax on us and forgot about wooden handles simple graghics…

  • ronwood72

    I believe you sold it at a Pop woodworking event. Where you were nearly giving away you old tools. I recall the event 1) you gave me your “drunken” coping saw because I didn’t have the cash on hand, 2) because a saw that looked like the one above was laying there and I thought it was peculiar for a pro to have an amateur’s saw. Thanks for the post, as most of the people I know who would like to try hand cutting dovetails are put off by the cost.

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